Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts - Lesson 38

Acts (Part 2/5)

Stephen challenged the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's conversion was a key event in the history of the early church.

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts
Lesson 38
Watching Now
Acts (Part 2/5)


Part 2

VIII. Review: An Outline of Acts

A. Introduction: Founding the Church (1:1-2:41)

B. Part One: Christian Mission to the Jews (2:42-12:25)

1. The Church in Jerusalem (2:42-6:7)

2. The Church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria (6:8-9:31)

3. Advances in Palestine and Syria (9:32-12:25)

C. Part Two: Christian Mission to the Gentiles (13:1-28:31)

1. Paul's first journey and the Apostolic Council (13:1-16:5)

2. Paul's second and third journeys (16:6-19:20)

3. Paul's final travels to Jerusalem and Rome (19:21-28:31)


IX. Stephen's Breakthrough (Acts 6-7)

A. Changes: rejecting God's teaching on land

1. Defense: none remains without change – not needed by patriarchs

2. Implications: are all fulfilled in Christ – Christians inherit the whole earth

B. Changes: rejecting God's teaching on law

1. Defense: none remains without change – points to Christ

2. Implications: are all fulfilled in Christ – ethics based on New Testament

C. Changes: rejecting God's teaching on temple

1. Defense: none remains without change – not even God's ideal

2. Implications: are all fulfilled in Christ – worship in spirit and truth


X. Acts 2:38, 8:4-25, and 10:44-48

A. Acts 2:38 – belief, baptism, Holy Spirit

B. Acts 8:4-25 – belief, baptism [gap] Holy Spirit

C. Acts 10:44-48 – Holy Spirit [gap] belief, baptism


XI. The "Delayed" Arrival of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8)

A. Baptism – Confirmation

B. Salvation – Jew-Samaritan unity

C. Salvation – Baptism in the Spirit

D. Superficial response – Salvation


XII. Paul's Life Before His Letters

A. A.D. 5-10: birth in Tarsus

B. Age 5-12: elementary education

C. Age 12-14?: tentmaking apprenticeship

D. Age 15-18?: study with Gamaliel in Jerusalem

E. A.D. 32-35 (age twenty-something): conversion/call/commission

F. Until A.D. 47-48: "hidden years" but eventually in ministry in Syrian Antioch


XIII. Paul in Jerusalem in Acts

A. Conversion (9:1-25)

B. 1st trip (9:26-30)

C. 2nd trip (11:27-30)

D. Problems in Antioch (15:1-2)

E. Apostolic Council (15:4-29)


XIV. Paul in Galatians

A. Conversion (1:15-17)

B. 1st trip (1:18-24)

C. 2nd trip (2:1-10)

D. Problems in Antioch (2:11-14)

E. Paul writes this letter


XV. Exegetical Notes on Acts 11-12

A. 11:19-30 – Antioch: first source of the term "Christian" and key new step for mission

B. Chapter 12

1. Persecution: no rescue followed by rescue

2. Herod: no punishment followed by punishment

C. God is sovereign and the Church grows either way

  • Overview of the influences of the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires on the Jewish nation. 

  • A summary of the Jewish political and religious rulers and movements, and the tensions that arose between the Jews and the occupying Roman authorities.

  • Ancient philosophies and religious movements had a significant influence on peoples' beliefs and behavior in the first century. The influence of Rome and Greece was evident throughout the world. 

  • Religious groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and teachings of contemporary Judaism about the Messiah affected Jesus' teaching and ministry.


  • One of the major influences in the social structure in Israel during the first century was the relationship and interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Various Jewish groups had differing views on how they should interact among themselves and with Gentiles. (Dr. Blomberg did not provide us with the PowerPoint slides for this lecture.)

  • One of the major influences in the social structure in Israel during the first century was the relationship and interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Various Jewish groups had differing views on how they should interact among themselves and with Gentiles. (Dr. Blomberg did not provide us with the PowerPoint slides for this lecture.)

  • The Gospels are historically reliable documents. Some of the main arguments and pieces of evidence pointing to the historical reliability of the Gospels are given in this lecture.

  • Form criticism, or form history examines how tradition has changed and how it has stayed the same. 

  • The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke have so many similarities that they are referred to as the "Synoptic Gospels." There is also material in each of these Gospels that make it distinctive from the other two.

  • It can be helpful to examine, from a literary perspective, the passages that record the encounters that Jesus had with Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman.

  • In order to understand the message of the Gospel of Mark, it is helpful to understand who the author is, the approximate date it was written, the audience to whom it was written, and the major themes of the book. The content of the book can be divided into the first 8 chapters that focus on the life and ministry of Jesus and the last 8 chapters that focus on His death and resurrection.

  • In order to understand the message of the Gospel of Matthew, it is helpful to understand who the author is, the approximate date it was written, the audience to whom it was written, and the possible sources on which Matthew relied when he was writing. Matthew begins by recording genealogy of Jesus and some of the events surrounding his infancy. Jesus' public ministry began with HIs baptism by John the Baptist, temptation in the wilderness and calling of the disciples. His preaching included the Sermon on the Mount and parables which Matthew grouped together in the Gospel.

  • Examining the outline and structure of the Gospel of Luke reveals the main points and the focus of Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts. Luke and Matthew have some similarities as well as some elements that are distinctive.

  • Much of the material of the Gospel of John is unique, compared to the other 3 Gospel accounts. Some of John's account alternates between recording a sign that Jesus performs with a discourse about a certain subject. Chapter 12 to the end of the Gospel covers the final days of Jesus' life on earth.

  • Some scholars belief that historical evidence supports the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, some think the historical evidence supports the inauthenticity of the Gospel accounts, and some think that the historical evidence is irrelevant. The different conclusions are due mainly to different presuppositions. It is possible to propose a probable time line of Jesus' life.

  • The Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth and early years of life show how He accurately fulfilled specific OT prophecies made hundreds of years earlier, and how His life was intertwined with that of John the Baptist. The beginning of John's Gospel is a testimony to Jesus' nature as being both fully God and fully human.

  • Locations in present day Israel that are related to Jesus' infancy and the beginning of His public ministry.

  • John the Baptist began his ministry before Jesus's public ministry. For a while their public ministries overlapped, then Jesus conducted the remainder of His public ministry without John the Baptist on the scene.

  • Turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana was one of the first miracles Jesus performed in His public ministry. He also had conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and healed the nobleman's son.

  • The Sermon on the Mount is one of the main passages showing how Jesus defines the "Kingdom of God." He also calls the disciples, redefines the family, performs healings and exorcisms, and uses parables and pronouncements to teach about who God is and how He relates to humans.

  • Images of locations in present day Israel related to Jesus' early Galilean ministry.

  • The Sermon on the Mount shows how the teachings of the Kingdom of God relate to the OT Law. It also includes additional NT teachings and a model prayer.

  • Pictures of places in present day Israel related to Jesus' early Galilean ministry.

  • Understanding parables as a literary form helps us interpret them accurately. Jesus performed miracles in various contexts for specific purposes.

  • Locations in present day Israel related to parables Jesus said and places He performed miracles.

  • Jesus' ministry in Galilee took place in locations like Nazareth, Cana, the Sea of Galilee and other nearby towns and areas. As Jesus was departing from Galilee, he performed miracles and taught at specific places along the way.

  • One of the themes in John chapters 5-11 is how Jesus fulfills the Jewish festivals. He also uses metaphors, saying that he is the, “bread of life,” “light of the world,” “gate for the sheep” and others.

  • In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus gives a sermon on forgiveness and humility. 

  • Locations in present day Israel related to Jesus' ministry.

  • Does the Bible teach that we are to marry or that we are not to marry?

  • Passion Week in the life of Jesus includes his anointing in Bethany, triumphal entry into Jerusalem, cleansing of the temple, celebrating Passover, prayer and arrest in Gethsemane, crucifixion and resurrection.

  • Chronological order of the events of the Passion week of the ministry of Jesus.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus are significant both historically and theologically.

  • Narration describing slide photographs of locations of events that took place during Passion Week.

  • Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. He was both fully God and fully man. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and showed compassion to the people who were outcasts in society.

  • Acts was written as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke to record what the Holy Spirit was doing through the lives of followers of Christ in the early church. The gospel spread ethnically from Jews to Gentiles, and geographically from Jerusalem to the rest of the world.

  • Stephen challenged the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's conversion was a key event in the history of the early church.

  • The discussion in the Jerusalem council in Acts chapter 15 was how Jews and gentiles could function together as the body of Christ.

  • Narrative describing pictures relating to places that were significant in the early church.

  • The book of Acts records events that happened during Paul's travels as he preached the gospel and established churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe.

This class studies issues of introduction for the four Gospels and Acts, and, using the English New Testament, provides a harmonistic study of the life of Christ with a focus on his essential teachings, the theology of evangelism, and the planting of the church as recorded in Acts.


Dr. Craig Blomberg

Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts


Acts (Part 2)

Lesson Transcript


This is the 38th lecture in the online series of lectures for understanding the Gospels and Acts, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and The Gospels: an Introduction and Survey


(Note: Even though this is a continuation of the Gospels: an Introduction and survey, it is also listed as the second of the lectures & sound files used in conjunction with the textbook from Pentecost to Patmos as stated in the sound file, itself. According to the lecturer, it is taken from the course: Acts to Revelation by Craig Blomberg, the sequel to this course. The header of this lecture, however, is entitled: Acts Part 2, of which there are a total of five parts.)


In this lecture we look at the second and third panels of Part one of the Book of Acts as reflected in the slide that reviews the outline we have been following. Due to the stoning of Steven, all but the Apostles, perhaps for the economy of the most conservative Jewish Christians were persecuted and therefore fled from Jerusalem and took the Gospel with them. Thus we come to the segment that shows the Gospel moving out to other parts of Judea and Samaria and into Galilee in fulfillment of the second stage of Acts 1:8. The third panel after the second summary statement in 9:31 gives us even further advances in Palestine or Israel and north into Syria with a particular focus on the city of Antioch. It also combines with the account on the conversion of Saul of which the second panel ends to set the stage for part two when Saul as a Christian will be the protagonist and apostle to the gentiles. A map helps to view the location of some of these cities available from the slide (or usually from the back of any Bible). Early on in Acts 8, we have the account of Philip in Samaria and then down in the Gaza strip, bottom left hand corner of the slide or any map which you are viewing. In chapter 9, we find Peter making his way toward the coast at Jerusalem at such sites as Joppa. 


The key events of chapters 10 and first part of 11, takes place with the conversion of Cornelius at Caesarea Maritima by the sea. Why is Stephen the first Christian mariner?  Why does one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6 become such a threat that he is arrested and then stoned? There is a considerable divide amongst scholars as to the extent between the Grecian Jews as the NIV puts it and the Hebraic Jews. Is this merely a linguistic device, one group having Greek as their first language and the other having Aramaic or is it also a cultural device? The more one allows for the latter possibility, the more readily one can imagine Stephen becoming more liberal in his theological thinking over against his more conservative Jewish Christians compatriots and certainly over against the very conservative central of Judaism within Jerusalem. 


The slide entitled ‘Stephen’s Breakthrough Acts 6-7’, reflects the fact that as Stephen gives what appears to be his defense speech, he in fact is pointing out three particular ways that Israel’s history went beyond the conservative thinking where leaders of the Sanhedrin or at least most of them had put their religion in the early first century. But in what at first glance appears like a rambling if not somewhat random discourse on Old Testament history. It turns out on closer inspection to focus on the themes of the land which was needed in the days of the patriarchs. It was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, but never enjoyed more than temporarily by them and yet these were individuals with their families that were said to please God. 


The second segment deals with Moses, the Law giver and the repeated ways in which this man and the events of his life moved forward, which is summed up in a quotation in Deuteronomy chapter 18 and verse 15 of a promise of a prophet coming like Moses who would arise, was interpreted in Jewish history as the Messiah and whatever he said must be obeyed. And thirdly, Stephen points out how even the Temple, the holiest place and building of Jewish thought and experience was originally not even God’s plan A as it were but rather the Tabernacle which enabled God’s presence in this symbolic form to be recognized as must less confined to any single location as in fact his omnipresence suggest. If one filters these observations through teaching that Jesus had already enunciated in the four Gospels such as ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, a re-application of Psalm 37:11 from the faithful Jew inheriting the land of Israel to the humble followers of Jesus inheriting the entire earth. One can see how Stephen might have generalized his understanding of promise of the land to the much more all-encompassing as well. 


When we think about when Jesus spoke about coming to fulfil the law and sovereignly reinterpreting it, we realize that Christians are not under the Torah but under the New Testament ethics which include the continuation of the moral principles of the Old Testament, but not the civil, ceremonial or ritual laws except to the extent where the broader underlining principles carry over. And then one recalls as well a text like John 4:24 where it is no longer necessary to argue about worshiping on one mountain or another or any place. Within the context of worshiping God in spirit, does away with the context of a particular Holy Land or Holy building, different from all others. If the Sanhedrin recognized anything, even modestly close to these principles behind Stephen’s speech and whatever words Luke may have omitted in what doubtless was in abbreviation as with all of the speeches in Acts, then the stoning becomes much more understandable.  As people disperse, Acts 8 is made up of the disproportionately sized passages of the evangelism of the Samaritans and then the briefer encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. What is the main theme in light of the larger outline of Acts, namely the progress if the Gospel moving out into less and less Jewish territory and in increasingly less Jewish categories. 


In the case of the second two points, the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, it is easy to get distracted by the questions surrounding baptism and miss the larger issue that this was a eunuch, a man castrated as he could serve with impunity in the royal harem in Ethiopia. According to Old Testament law, such an individual was cursed and had he already had children prior to his castration, such curse would fall up to ten subsequent generations. The first part of Acts 8 raises all kinds of questions about the role of the Holy Spirit which like those about the importance of baptism; they will be addressed but let us not lose sight of the most significant observation and that is the Samaritan coming to faith in Jesus, a despised half-breed descendant form the unlawful marriage of Jews and gentiles beginning centuries earlier in Israelite history. We did, however, observe when we looked at the Pentecostal package and our diagram of various circles. It appeared that the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 did not come when the Samaritans who were evangelized by Philip and baptized. There have been four major approaches throughout church history to this apparent delayed arrival of the Holy Spirit in churches such as Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. To a certain degree, even in the Presbyterian Church in the later development of infant baptism followed by a teenage confirmation service often sought as a pretext passage like this to demonstrate the gap between initial exposure and baptism into Christianity and truly owning one’s faith for one’s own self. But clearly, we are not talking about infants in this text nor is there a gap of years or even months between the two experiences in question. 


Perhaps the most common protestant can certainly or the most evangelical protestant explanation of the gap is that this was an exceptional situation. Exceptions make bad case laws, they don’t relate as the fairly consistent patterns elsewhere, but because this was such a special situation in which Samaritans coming to Christ would by no means be immediately welcomed by Jewish Christians. Because of the historic animosity, the Spirit waiting for Peter and John represented the twelve, the Apostles, the Hebraic Jews, rather than Philip, the deacon, the evangelist and the Hellenistic Jew in order to confirm and authenticate the reality of their conversion in a way that would hopefully foster Jew and Samaritan unity within the church. The charismatic and Pentecostal wings, almost all of which are limited to the last century of the church has often been seen as normative making the exception the norm as it were. To say that one must have a second baptism in the Holy Spirit that is the true empowerment for Godly Christian living, even when one may be saved and baptized in water at an earlier date. Or more modestly amongst more thoughtful charismatic and Pentecostal where the conclusion is that the Spirit is sovereign and does what he wishes when he wishes so we are not to derive any consistent pattern at all. 


A forth view is admittedly the least known and therefore perhaps for that reason should be scrutinized very carefully before it is accepted. Our textbook flushes the rationale behind this out in more detail. And that is: initially, there was a superficial response, just as the Samaritans had been astonished or amazed at Simon the magician, the same verb is used in the Greek as their response to Philip which did not necessarily inspire confidence that we are speaking of full-fledged Christian faith. When one’s term for faith does appear, it’s faith in Philip or to Philip and not in Christ so consistently elsewhere in Acts and the New Testament. When Simon Magist who believed and was apparently baptized is confronted by Peter over his request to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, the harsh language, ‘may you and your money go to hell’, really, ‘you have no lot in this matter’ suggests that Peter sees Simon as never having been saved in the first place which may be the tipoff to the state of the other Samaritans until Peter and John came and gave them further revelation and additional baptism that is described.


At this point, we are ready to talk about the conversion of Saul, fore-shadowing the major role he was to play in the second half of Acts. Although the dates are much more speculative; we can piece together what is said about him: when he was a young man, an old man, length of time and different places and that he was born somewhere between AD 5 and 10, perhaps closer to AD 10 would be his birthdate in Tarus of Cilicia.  Like other Jews of his day, even in the Diasporas, in the larger cities of which Tarus certainly qualified. He would have had the elementary educational experience from age’s five to twelve. Because rabbis except in very unusual circumstances were not permitted to receive money for ministry, he had to learn a trade to support himself so that his work as a rabbi would be bi-vocational. We know that he became a tentmaker and this apprenticeship often followed for a young man upon completion of elementary education. The elite few who got to study with revered rabbis to become rabbis themselves with advanced training in the Scriptures or the Oral tradition and in the practices and liturgy in the synagogue may have come over the second half of Saul’s teenage years, culminating around the age of eighteen when seminary for Jewish boys ended and become ordained.  It’s unclear whether he was ever formally ordained, perhaps because of the events that quickly lead to his conversion experience. The later his birthdate, the fewer years there are between the earliest possible end time of his education and his conversion. In a different perspective, the great zeal which seems uncharacteristic of Gamaliel, one of the most noted rabbis in history, and very much characteristic of the pre-Christian Saul. It has been suggested to a few commentators that perhaps Saul had an explicit falling out with Gamaliel which in turn could have short circuited the process to rabbinic ordination. All of this is simply, speculative as we honestly don’t know for sure what all of his education involved. 


Then after his conversion in AD 32, if we date the crucifixion to AD 30 or to AD 35, if we date the crucifixion to AD33, he received his call and commission as well which involved evangelism except for one trip to Jerusalem three years after his conversion according to Galatians 1.  We hear nothing of his work during these years until he appears in Acts 13 in his first missionary journey in the late forties. Although there has been a romantic theory of him spending three years in the Arabian Desert communing with Jesus making up not having spent three years with Jesus in his earthly life like the twelve did. The only actual evidence we have from either Acts or the Epistles is that he is involved in ministry around Damascus immediately after his conversion. He is involved in ministry when he shows up in Jerusalem and then in Tarus when Barnabas years later brings him to Antioch and so more recent scholars have tended to limit their speculation to the idea that he simply was involved in ministry throughout this entire period. Especially, if one realizes that Arabia did not refer to the Arabian Desert as such but included the semi-arable land just to the east and south. An issue that has beguiled commentators in both Acts and Galatians is how to humanize the account in both texts of Paul’s early years, if it is possible at all. In more liberal circles, it remains a commonly held view that because of their superficial similarities, Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council is to be matched with the church in Jerusalem as described in Galatians 2:1-10. At which point, several contradictions emerge between the two books. The chart shown on the PowerPoint slide (if available) is the most common evangelical approach and in our accompanying sound file series, the sequel to this course, much more detail is given. 


We come now to Acts chapter ten and the conversion of Cornelius and a few other things that could be re-enforced from our notes in the textbook. We return to the problem of the Pentecostal package and the apparent gap; in this case, the apparent arrival of the Holy Spirit and an explicit reference to belief and baptism. But when one reads the text carefully and discovers that Acts 10 describing Peter’s sermon, gets as far as verse 43 in which Peter has just declared that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin in his name and while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. It seems quite reasonable to envision them as believing in what Peter said and thus receiving the spirit and forgiveness of sin at that point. Even if there still were logistics that needed to be explained before an actual baptismal service could take place. Even if it was not until Peter had returned to Jerusalem and retold the story and explicitly mention the belief of Cornelius and his companions. 


Acts 11 to 12, then in addition of this retelling of events at Caesarea by the Sea, contain a certain group of material in the book of Acts, events surrounding the events in Syria and Antioch. The first location where the term Christian was used, perhaps in a somewhat derogatory way by outsiders at first and also what would become the center for Paul’s expanding missionary journeys. Chapter 12 is united in the theme of the figure of Herod Agrippa; the first of which we recall our early introductory lectures to the historical background to the New Testament. The first episode involved Herod pleasing the non-Christian Jews by executing James, the apostle, in front of Zebedee, the brother of John and imprisoning Peter. Peter, however, is miraculously rescued as he had been once before and from that point on we are told he leaves Jerusalem. Intriguingly, the disciples are praying throughout it all, but one apostle was not rescued but one was, a reminder of God’s sovereign hand over such affairs often unrelated to the faithful or faithlessness of his people. A second contrast from chapter 12 involves the first and second halves of the chapter in which Herod initially gets away with his persecuting activities but then when he receives acknowledgement as a god, he is struck by an angel and smitten by worms and quickly dies, an event interestingly attested by Josephus as well. Herod receives no punishment and subsequently does receive punishment even though he has been disobeying God’s laws and theological principles in both cases. Again, a reminder of God’s sovereign choice with respect to the time of punishment as well as to salvation, and through both chapters God not only remains sovereign but the church continues to grow. This is a further testimony that this is not a random or bizarre behavior either on the part of individuals or of God, but his Spirit is in charge and working out his plan for the ultimately good of the Kingdom.